Dos and Don’ts for Talking to Your Child About ADHD
Your child has been diagnosed with ADHD. In the months and maybe years before the diagnosis, you were probably frustrated with different aspects of your child's behavior and chances are, he is just as frustrated. Now that you have an explanation, you should take time to learn about ADHD: what it means, how it impacts your child and your family, what you can do to help your child. You should talk with teachers and work together to implement strategies to help him at school. And, you should talk with your child about what ADHD means and what he needs to do to help himself.
Each child is different and will have a different idea on what ADHD means. Depending on the age of your child, each will have a different level of understanding. Some, especially older children, will feel relieved that they are not "bad." Younger children will have a limited understanding of what this means to them. Many may already have low self-esteem from years of not being able to keep up with peers in school or being shunned by classmates because of ADHD symptoms.
How you perceive ADHD and how you approach the diagnosis will have a lot of influence on how your child reacts to the diagnosis. While you will need to take into account your child's age and ability to understand a diagnosis of ADHD, there are some general Dos and Don'ts that can help you get through the conversation and help your child deal with the diagnosis positively.
Do frame the conversation in a positive way. Focus on the positive aspects of ADHD and let your child know that ADHD does not mean automatic failure, explaining that many very successful people have had and do have ADHD.
Don't begin the conversation talking about all the things your child can't do or focus on the difficulties. He has been living with ADHD and probably already knows what he can't do or has trouble with.
Do let your child know that you are going to work together to find ways to improve behaviors and find strategies to focus on his strengths.
Don't imply or say that ADHD defines who your child is or refer to it as a "disorder." Instead, explain that he has ADHD and it is only part of who he is, let him know that personality traits, such as honesty, integrity, hard-working, are the traits that will define what type of person he is.
Do explain how ADHD impacts your child, such as his brain may work faster or he is full of energy and talk about how these things can be a benefit.
Don't talk in medical or technical terms. Take into account your child's age and talk in terms he can understand.
Do explain that ADHD doesn't go away but that you will work as a team to help him find strategies to compensate for areas he struggles with.
Don't say "you just need to work harder and it will all be okay."
Do listen to your child's ideas and concerns and answer questions he may have.
Don't assume you know how your child feels about the diagnosis.
Do explain that ADHD is different in everyone; that because one person is hyperactive doesn't mean everyone with ADHD is hyperactive. Help your child understand that he has individual strengths and weaknesses and you want to focus on his strengths and work to improve weaknesses.
Don't generalize with statements such as "All children with ADHD have trouble...."
Do explain how medication can help (if your child is going to be taking medication) and that he should not be embarrassed about medication. Explain that medication is similar to using eyeglasses to see better.
Don't make a big deal about medication.
Do be on the lookout for "information overload" and limit conversations or break the conversation into different days.
Don't be insistent that you need to discuss every aspect of ADHD in one sitting. Allow your child time to digest each part of the conversation before moving on.
Do focus on solutions. Be optimistic about how the diagnosis is an explanation and can help you work together to find strategies to help him succeed.
Don't list all the problems your child has and suggest that he find ways to improve those difficult areas. Don't imply that ADHD is an excuse for bad behavior.
Most of all, when talking with your child, let him know that you love him unconditionally and having ADHD does not change how you feel about him.
"How to Talk to Your Kids about ADHD." 2009, Kara T. Tamanini, M.S., L.M.H.C., KidsAwarenessSeries.com
"Talking to Children about Medication for Attention Deficit Disorder/ADHD," Date Unknown, David Rabiner, Ph.D. Attention Research Update